One of the myths perpetuated about the executive presidency introduced by the 1978 Constitution was the argument that it was advantageous to the minorities as it enabled them to influence the outcome of the presidential election as the whole country was considered one electorate. The argument was that since any aspirant to the office of [...]


20th Amendment signals paradigm shift in approach to nation building


One of the myths perpetuated about the executive presidency introduced by the 1978 Constitution was the argument that it was advantageous to the minorities as it enabled them to influence the outcome of the presidential election as the whole country was considered one electorate. The argument was that since any aspirant to the office of the executive presidency would need the votes of the minorities their safety, security and wellbeing would be assured.

However the realty has been different. At no time in the history of this country have the minorities gone through the difficulties they have had to undergo except during the forty years of the executive presidency. The whole of the North and East has been turned into a conflict zone and the loss of life and property and shedding of blood has been phenomenal. More recently the Muslims have had to bear the brunt of the failure of the executive presidency in the South.

No doubt the LTTE’s actions contributed to the misery of the Tamil, Muslim and Sinhala people of the North and East but the fact remains that the executive presidency with its centralisation of power could not generate a solution that would resolve the problem. In fact the LTTE which was a small armed group when the executive presidency came into being in 1978 grew into a large organisation which at most times dominated the North and East under the executive presidency.

It was due to this and other reasons relating to the issues of democracy and governance that consensus emerged across the political divide that the country should abolish the executive presidency and return to the Westminister form of governance. The 19th Amendment was only the first step in the journey towards achieving that objective.

The strengthening of democracy and other benefits that accrued to the system of governance through the 19th amendment do not require repetition here. It is axiomatic that the weakening of institutions of governance affect the weak and vulnerable the most and this was evident during the time the 1978 Constitution held sway in its original form.

The 19th Amendment sought to strengthen the institutions of governance by putting in place a system which would give holders of office in these institutions the freedom to act independently and according to their conscience without any political or other extraneous influences. The 20th Amendment is a clear attempt to roll back these measures and will result in a loss of confidence and trust in these institutions.

It is only when people have the confidence that the Judiciary, the Police, the public service and other institutions of governance will act independently and without fear or favour that they will be able to play their role as responsible citizens of this country. Trust and confidence in these institutions is particularly significant to the minority communities as well as other vulnerable groups such as the minor strands of political thinking, working class, the farmers and others who depend on them to mete out justice whenever the situation demands. Any erosion of the independence of these institutions will undoubtedly adversely impact on these groups.

The constitution of a country does not only provide the framework of governance but also lists the values that underpin the State. It is in line with this thinking that the 19th Amendment introduced a new provision making it the duty of the President to “promote national reconciliation and integration” (Article 33 (b)).

After the protracted armed conflict that ended in 2010 with the defeat of the LTTE, it was a natural and indeed an essential component of the nation building process that the State had to give a lead to heal the wounds of the different communities and people who had suffered in diverse ways. This was the rationale in introducing Article 33 (b) through the 19th Amendment.

But the 20th Amendment seeks to completely exclude this duty cast on the President by the 19th Amendment signaling a paradigm shift in the thinking with regard to the need for national reconciliation and integration. This shift will also impact on the minorities and the nation building process if the 20th Amendment comes to pass.

The 20th Amendment seeks to do away with most of the provisions of the 19th Amendment and install the regime of the 18th Amendment to the detriment of the minorities and democracy in this country.

It is interesting to read the observations of one of the parliamentarians who supported the 18th Amendment when it was presented to parliament and thereafter spoke in support of the 19th amendment during the debate in parliament on April 28, 2015.

In his speech during the debate Mr. Rauf Hakeem stated that it was up to them to realise their past mistakes and pass the 19th Amendment.

Speaking further Mr. Hakeem went on to say: “ Mr. presiding member, it is important for us to realise that some of us have to atone for our past mistakes. To me, personally, to reverse my decision, to have supported the 18th Amendment. This is a good opportunity for all of us to do so because we see the ill-effects of the 18th Amendment; it was nothing but growing nepotism in the country; cronyism was rampant; abuse of power was untrammelled and there were xenophobic forces that went around even attacking places of religious worship. The type of culture of impunities some of these forces enjoyed was at the behest of those who were giving political patronage to them and all of us suffered immensely. “

Mr. Hakeem also went on to draw attention to the fact that the country’s reputation suffered under the 18th Amendment. He said: “The reputation of this country internationally suffered. But, yesterday, His Excellency the President very correctly enunciated the fact that the induction of this Government has resulted in the international community once again looking at this country’s democracy with hope.Therefore, it is up to us today to grasp this opportunity with both hands and see that we reverse our mistakes. In a sense, I am here to atone for my mistake in supporting the 18th Amendment.“

There are probably many in parliament today who will in their thoughts echo the words of Mr. Hakeem. It however remains to be seen how many will give expression to these thoughts and act when the 20th Amendment is presented to parliament.



Share This Post


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked.
Comments should be within 80 words. *


Post Comment

Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.